Parents know social skills are the foundation of friendships. Find a checklist and simple tips to help you teach social skills for children.
“How will my child develop social skills?”
This is one of the main concerns parents expressed during all the pandemic shutdowns.
Parents understand that social skills are so important for children as they enter school and interact with other kids.
I’m so empathetic to this concern.
One of my children had a bad habit of screaming like a pterodactyl instead of expressing feelings. And it’s hard to make friends that way.
So we have really worked on learning social skills for children this past year.
Inside this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about social skills for children, plus a social skills checklist.
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Social Skills for Children
Social skills are the way your child interacts with other children and adults. They include verbal skills like saying, “Excuse me,” and non-verbal skills like respecting personal space.
They communicate respect and make forming relationships easier.
Navigating the world with strong social skills can position children to learn more easily. School is filled with social interactions and you want your child to be successful.
So teach these social skills for kids.
- Related: Ready for Kindergarten Checklist
How do I teach my child social skills?
Here is a simple, three-step process to teach your child social skills.
Choose One Skill at a Time
When you want your child to learn something new, it’s best to work on one skill at a time. Take a look at the list of important social skills below and choose one skill to work on.
Work on that one social skill until your child uses it independently most of the time. Your child will also show mastery when they use it in multiples types of social situations like with grandparents or with friends.
Explain the Skill Clearly
Make sure you have your child’s full attention and explain the social skill clearly,
You can something like, “Following directions is important. It shows your teacher and classmates that you respect them.”
Role Play the Skill
Once you’ve explained the skill, then it’s time to practice it. Role play is a great way to learn and practice all sorts of skills.
For example, if you’re practicing taking turns, role play that skill:
- Grab a toy truck and pretend to play with it.
- Say to your child, “It’s your turn.”
- Then ask your child to give you a turn.
This is the simple way you can teach your child social skills.
Social Skills Checklist (for a 5-year-old)
Social skills will continue to develop as children mature. However, it’s helpful to have a checklist of social skills your child eventually needs to have.
These are good foundational social skills for preschoolers, or for a five-year-old. Your four-year-old child or six-year-old child can also benefit from this checklist.
This social skills checklist is based on the developmental milestones from the Center for Disease Control and on curriculum standards from my state’s Department of Early Childhood Education.
Here’s the social skills checklist for children around five years old:
1. Taking turns
When children get to school, there will be communal supplies or equipment. It is important for children to understand that with limited resources, we have an obligation to share.
Now, this doesn’t mean your child simply relinquishes an item when another person expresses interest – instead, it means they acknowledge the other child’s feelings and determine a plan.
2. Naming emotions
Learning to identify emotions in themselves and in others is actually the foundation for all social-emotional learning. Children need to be emotionally regulated (ie calm) in order to develop good social skills and friendships.
- Related: Teach Your Child to Name Feelings
3. Using empathy
Having an understanding of someone else’s emotions makes relationships strong. It also makes learning easier in the classroom.
In order to be a good friend, a child needs to consider someone else’s perspective. Then they can express empathy for how someone else is feeling.
Working with another person to accomplish a goal is an important social skill for children. Cooperating to achieve big tasks is how humans have building skyscrapers and created the phone in your pocket.
At school, children cooperate to pick up the classroom. At home, your child could cooperate with you to put away all the groceries.
5. Regulating emotions
In elementary school, most children should be able to regulate their own emotions in most situations. When a child is frustrated over a pencil breaking, teachers want to see children manage that feeling instead of dissolving into a meltdown.
This helps children to form friendships as they can navigate feelings in arguments with their friends.
Grab the Free Calming Strategies printable here.
6. Listening When Someone is Speaking
Conversations are a two-way street It’s important to other children that your child listen to them.
Communication with others is the foundation for social interactions. Acknowledging and engaging fosters good relationships.
7. Following Directions
Along with listening, following directions is an important social skill. In relationships, it communicates mutual respect; in school, it’s critical for learning.
Most children need a lot of support in learning to follow directions because it also requires a lot of executive functioning or planning skills.
8. Respecting Personal Space
Most people don’t like it when other people stand close to them or touch them in unwanted ways.
An important social skill is to respect personal space. We call it the “Body Bubble.” My children tell each other, “you’re in my body bubble,” as a way to express when they are too close.
9. Personal Hygiene
Maintaining basic personal hygiene is a social skill that communicates respect, too. Certain bodily functions are private.
Teach your child how to:
- use a tissue
- sneeze into their elbow
- wash their hands
- chew with mouth closed
These personal hygiene skills keep the environment germ-free.
10. Making Eye Contact
Especially for children on the autism spectrum, this social skill might not be appropriate for everyone. With my autistic child and neurotypical child, I simply ask them to look at the person. This could be the person’s chin.
In place of this, you could also teach your child to communicate active listening with nodding. The purpose of this skill is to communicate to the other person that your child is listening.
11. Using Manners
Teach manners around these common situations:
- Using please,
- Using thank you
- Asking permission
- Saying excuse me
12. Acceptance of Differences
People are different. There are different races, genders, religions, and abilities that impact how people look and behave.
Explicitly teach your child about differences. Explain how and it’s appropriate for your child to speak openly about someone’s differences.
What Causes Poor Social Skills for Children?
When you looked at the social skills list above, do you notice your child has a lot of poor social skills? There are a few reasons children can have poor social skills.
Developmental disorders like autism can cause poor skills. Children with ADHD might struggle with social skills.
As a parent of a child with a developmental disorder, I encourage you to speak with your pediatrician about these concerns, if you have them.
Lack of Opportunity
Simply a lack of opportunity to practice can have an impact on social skills.
As a result of the global pandemic, we can expect a lot of children to have poor social skills. That’s understandable – many children need the chance to socialize to learn these skills completely.
Need to be Taught
Sometimes teachers focus on academic curriculum instead of social skills. Parents might be too overwhelmed with work and responsibilities to clearly teaching a child these skills.
So it’s really important to teach these explicitly to all children, not just the children with diagnosed developmental issues.
How Can I Help My Child who Struggles Socially?
If you have a child who is struggling with social skills, it’s okay! They are skills just like riding a bike or learning to read.
Remove Shame around Social Skills
First, remove shame for your child and yourself. Everyone’s brain learns different skills at different times.
Teach your child not to confuse social skills with character. Your child can be a compassionate and kind human being even if they pick their nose!
Plan to Teach the Skills More Frequently
Teach the skills clearly. Start with the foundational skills around emotions, empathy, and emotional regulation.
Consult Professionals regarding Social Skills
If your child still seems to struggle, consult with your child’s doctor. It could be time for some occupational therapy or a social skills group with a licensed therapist or speech pathologist.
Having someone with more training and access to a consistent group of peers could make a world of difference for your child.
Some parents avoid professionals because of the stigma of a label or diagnosis. Consider this instead:
That label or diagnosis could also prevent a lifetime of depression once a child is aware of how they function differently from others. The potential diagnosis also opens up doors to services and legal protections.
Social Skills Worksheets
A lot of parents want and need the support of something tangible like social skills worksheets. It’s understandable to want a concrete guide on how to teach social skills for children.
The Social-Emotional Learning at Home Printable Pack covers the foundational skills that are critical for social relationships.
In this printable pack your child will learn how to:
- identify emotions in themselves
- notice emotions in others
- respond with empathy
- test various calming skills
- recognize big feelings within their body
- regulate their emotions
These social skills worksheets will guide you as you teach your child social skills.
Whether we like it or not, social skills do make it easier for some child to navigate the world. The good news is social skills are learnable for all children.
Regardless of developmental delays or neurodiversity, all children need to learn how to interact with others.
Use the checklist in this post to help you as you teach your child social skills.